By Llewellyn D.W. Thomas (IESE Business School)
The explosion of ChatGPT has generated unprecedented interest in artificial intelligence. However, it has also created alarm at the dangers posed by the irresponsible use of technology.
For instance, in March 2023 an open letter by the Future of Life Institute argued that “powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.” The letter goes on to call for a pause on the development of large-scale AI systems, so that safeguards may be put into place. Six months later this letter has accumulated nearly 34,000 signatures.
The increasingly visible linking of computing with responsibility — between power and risk, and between potential and hazard — are putting new demands on companies. Increasingly, business leaders will be expected not just to deploy technologies throughout their companies to remain competitive, but also to show that they are using their digital technologies responsibly.
To help businesses adapt, I’ve worked with IBM and the British Computer Society to develop a Responsible Computing Framework. This framework encompasses the environmental impact of technology infrastructures as well as less tangible areas such as social, ethical and economic impact. The framework ranges from how much energy it takes to power your desktop computer, to whether you have the appropriate consent to use your customers’ data, to rooting out biases in your algorithms.
The Responsible Computing Framework exhorts business leaders to focus on six domains, and suggests a range of useful KPIs to assist in deployment:
1. Responsible Data Center. Developing and delivering computing requires the physical infrastructure of data centers. Some companies run data centers themselves and others outsource them. Regardless of the data center sourcing strategy, data centers should be designed and operated with an emphasis on sustainability. That means working to reduce energy consumption and switching to renewable energy sources. Given the high environmental cost, energy use around cooling systems should also be reviewed.
2. Responsible Infrastructure. Organization computing also comprises hardware and networking. Again, measuring energy usage is important, as is monitoring the lifecycle of equipment and electronic waste. It’s also key to optimize the use of infrastructure, consolidating workloads and taking other measures to ensure high levels of utilization.
3. Responsible Code. Beyond the data centers and the computing infrastructure, business leaders must consider the impact of their software architecture, programming language and platforms that they deploy. Responsible computing requires ongoing evaluation of whether code in use is appropriate, how efficient it is, as well as the potential environmental, societal and economic impact of the code in use.
4. Responsible Data Usage. The quality, acquisition and management of data, as well as the subsequent usage, privacy and sharing are also vital aspects to responsible computing. Business leaders need to ensure that their organization can guarantee that data, processes and people accessing it, can be trusted. Strong policies are required to address the ethical, legal and social responsibility of processing data across its lifecycle.
5. Responsible Systems. Business leaders also need to ensure that their systems are inclusive and address possible bias and discrimination. Computing systems, broadly defined, should be ethical, privacy-preserving, secure and resilient, and this approach should form part of a culture across the entire organization.
6. Responsible Impact. Finally, business leaders need to proactively consider how their computing and digital innovations can produce a positive impact on society. Companies should consider ways to put their computing to use to support sustainability and circularity, diversity and inclusion, and transparency and ethics.
Business leaders need to start demonstrating that they are using their digital technologies responsibly. The Responsible Computing Framework brings the ethos of sustainability into the digital sphere, ensuring that technological gains translate into long-term progress for individuals, companies and society.
Llewellyn D.W. Thomas is a professor in the Operations, Information and Technology Department of IESE Business School.